Managing employees from different locations requires a different skill set from leading an in-office team. Here's how to properly train remote leaders.
- Remote leadership has special challenges and requires unique skills.
- Proactive communication is essential for success.
- Remote leadership courses can help give you the skills you need.
Working remotely is becoming more and more popular, which means that leadership now happens virtually for many teams. Whether an onsite manager works with remote employees or the leaders work remotely themselves, leading people you don't see face to face every day requires a slightly different skill set. When you're working across time zones and everyone's interacting from behind their screens, communication becomes even more paramount.
Training leaders to manage remote workers effectively is vital to the success of any remote work program, according to Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs. In general, a remote leader's focus needs to be managed based on results and processes rather than facetime, which is so often relied upon in traditional office settings.
Sutton Fell and other leaders of remote workforces offered their best advice on developing managers who work effectively with dispersed teams.
Teach them proactive communication
One of the most useful areas of remote leadership training is proactive communication practices amongst teams and colleagues, said Sutton Fell.
"Proactive communication – taking the initiative to reach out when an idea, question or challenge comes up, rather than waiting to be asked or waiting for a scheduled meeting – can really help to develop a more transparent, open management process, as well as build trust and prevent problems from going unnoticed," she said.
"It's exponentially harder for a remote leader to manage a team, compared with a leader who is managing a team in person," added Phil Shawe, co-founder and co-CEO of translation services company TransPerfect. "To manage a team from a remote location, it's best to make a strong effort to keep in touch with that employee."
Leaders can proactively communicate by holding regular and individual meetings specifically to address questions and help solve problems (not just to give a laundry list of updates), and by setting guidelines so all team members know which communication method – email, phone, IM, video conference, etc. – to use in certain circumstances. For instance, Shawe advised against using email to convey "feelings" or any important updates that might invite a lot of follow-up questions.
Bryan Miles, CEO of Belay, added that remote leaders must also learn to communicate the "why" of important tasks and projects more than the "what," "when" and "how."
"When the leader is not accessible, any hard-working adults can fill in the blank of the 'what,' 'when' and 'how' when they know the 'why,'" Miles said.
Help leaders translate the company culture
Another big piece of the puzzle is training leaders to translate the company's culture for their remote team members. Shawe noted that creating a culture that fosters true leadership is hard enough to do when you're in the same office as someone, and it gets harder the more remote the team becomes.
When Sutton Fell started FlexJobs as a remote company, she was very conscientious in considering how to translate the best traditional office elements and activities to a virtual environment. She advised reaching out to employees regularly to engage in casual conversations – like water-cooler conversations that might happen in the physical office.
Bring people together
Whether it's once a month, once a quarter or twice a year, Shawe said remote leaders should get on the plane to attend a meeting at the company headquarters. This way, they will be able to interact with the rest of their team in person and receive sufficient training for the skills they need. In addition to this, remote leaders should use common conference (industry or internal training) to increase face-to-face opportunities.
Sutton Fell said leadership training needs to focus on "best practices," regardless of whether the leader is remote or onsite.
"Successful leaders focus on communication and culture, challenge and empower their team members, focus on short- and long-term strategy, and the list can go on," she said. "These are all the same approaches that I've used to lead in onsite roles."
Remote leadership training and courses
There are special skills needed for remote leadership. Remote leadership training and courses will teach you how to best manage employees remotely, and address the common issues that arise.
Remote Leadership Institute
Remote Leadership Institute provides courses, blog posts and other resources to help you learn to manage your team. They offer a Remote Team Assessment tool to help you assess how well your team communicates and identify ways to maximize productivity.
The Remote Leadership Course includes short mobile-friendly videos that offer step by step instructions for implementing what you learn, checklists and other tools. The course has 18 modules, including "Managing Remote Teams," "Planning Virtual Meetings" and "Keys to Remote Accountability."
Workplaceless creates assignments that help you build the skills you'll need as a remote leader. They include practical lessons with case studies and advice from experienced remote leaders. They offer guided facilitation sessions that can be customized to meet the needs of your team. Modules include "Remote Team Culture," "Conflict Management," and "Learning and Development."
The course includes:
- Interactive lessons
- Downloadable worksheets
- Digital certification upon completion
Evolve provides e-learning solutions for business owners. Courses are available for groups and individuals. You can also create custom bundles. Evolve recommends offering all remote employees the "How to Work From Home Successfully" course.
Evolve's remote leadership toolkit provides 18 microcourses in six modules. These include "Introduction to the Remote Leader," "Leading Effective Virtual Meetings" and "Remote Coaching Feedback."
Remote How’s online training program is a six-week course you complete at your own pace. It requires approximately two to three hours per week. It has six hours of videos, 20 assessments and cheat sheets, and three expert webinars.
The "Managing Distributed Teams" course includes:
- A community forum
- Master classes
- Biweekly consulting sessions
- A certificate of completion